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Czech, Please!

The U.S./Czech Republic match on ESPN2 starts in two minutes. Our edit meeting ran long (Hey Robins—let’s wrap it up, huh?), so I’m jogging over to the Mad Hatter on 3rd Avenue in Manhattan. The bar is half full, maybe 30 guys in attendance. I’m barely settled in at the bar when Czech gets on the scoreboard, a beautiful cross finding 6’ 8” monster Jan Koller’s head in front of the goal. Five minutes in, Czech is up 1-0.

It’s a far cry from the last World Cup, when the U.S. stunned Portugal with three goals off the bat.

Announcer Dave O’Brien, maligned for lacking a soccer background, sounds fine. He knowledgably discusses various U.S. players’ exploits on their U.K. teams. He pronounces the site of the match, Gelsenkirchen, perfectly. He breaks things down for the casual fan, which most of us (excluding soccer nuts like Ben Grossman), are. He also uses his booth partner, former U.S. player Marcelo Balboa, well, periodically tapping Balboa for the game-within-the-game insights.

Nifty camera work in the 10th minute. U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller lines up a goal kick, and the camera shoots from behind him as the ball sails toward the backdrop of tens of thousands in a packed stadium, reminding thick U.S. viewers that the World Cup is a big freakin’ deal.

The Mad Hatter crowd lets forth a collective whoo! in the 16th minute, as Landon Donovan is taken down on a breakaway. Nothing comes of it.

A Czech named Nedved weaves through the U.S. defense. He has blond, feathered hair. Loved him in Abba.

The Hatter crowd gets jazzed again as U.S. captain Claudio Reyna dings one off the post in the 29th minute. Balboa says Reyna missed the equalizer by two inches. The crowd groans.

By Michael Malone